I admit I find November a rather uninspiring month, nature-wise. So barren, so still. So I’m going to go back into my archives and pull out a subject I’ve been hoarding since June. Can you see him in this photo?
I nearly missed him myself, that day. It was on one of our MAPS visits to our Blue Lakes site, and I was just preparing to go check the nets when I happened to notice… something… in the grass that made me pause and take a closer look. And the something turned out to be a snake. He wasn’t moving, I hadn’t seen him slide into that spot; it must just have been the wide pale stripe of his belly that caught my eye.
It turned out to be a Smooth Green Snake, Liochlorophis vernalis. This is the first (and so far only) individual I’ve seen of this species, and I was pretty excited. I’m not sure why I’ve never seen one before; according to the Ontario herpetological atlas they’re not uncommon and can be found throughout southern Ontario below Sudbury. Interestingly, though, they do seem to be more frequently found along the edge of the Canadian Shield and in a few clustered spots like the Bruce Peninsula or the southern part of the Niagara Escarpment. Since our MAPS sites are Shield edge, perhaps that explains why my first one was there.
In any case, I’d never seen one before, so I spent some time studying this guy. He did this interesting thing where he held his body upright like this, stiffly, and every now and then waved back and forth a little bit. I wasn’t sure whether he was trying to camouflage himself by pretending to sway in the wind like a piece of grass (even though there was no breeze that day) or if by moving back and forth he could get a better sense of where we were relative to him. He continued doing this even once he finally left the grasses and slithered out onto the open rock, so I’m inclined to think the latter. We took a few videos of the behaviour; here’s one:
Smooth Green Snakes eat mostly invertebrates, though I think they’re opportunistic enough they wouldn’t turn down a small vertebrate like a salamander or spring peeper, should they come across one. I’ve been calling this one a he, but I don’t actually know the sex. If it were actually a female, she might have been looking for a place to lay her eggs, which they may do anytime from June to late summer. They deposit the 4 to 6 inch-long eggs in a soft, protected spot like a pile of rotting vegetation or wood, and these hatch in 4 to 23 days.
I found the 4 days figure rather startling; I gather that a few rare individuals may retain the eggs inside their body till near to hatching, and would guess that’s more likely what’s happening with the 4 day situation. I can’t really see any vertebrate going from zygote to hatched in only four days.
I left the snake while it was still in the grass, but Dan sat and watched it for a while. Eventually it came out and crawled across the rocks toward him, slipping under our data binder and appearing out the other side before disappearing again into the grass on the other side of the rocks. They’re supposedly fairly docile snakes, slow to bite, but we didn’t try catching him. It was enough just to enjoy watching him where he was.